WASHINGTON (AP) — Donald Trump’s legal team is characterizing his indictment in the special counsel’s 2020 election interference investigation as an attack on the former president’s right to free speech. But the case is not merely about Trump’s lies but also about the efforts he took to subvert the election, prosecutors say.
The early contours of a potential legal and political defense began to emerge in the hours after the charges were unsealed, with defense lawyer John Lauro accusing the Justice Department of having “criminalized” the First Amendment and asserting that his client had relied on the advice of attorneys around him in 2020. He also indicated he would look to slow the case down despite prosecutors’ pledge of a speedy trial.
But experts say there’s little legal merit to Trump’s First Amendment claims, particularly given the breadth of steps taken by Trump and his allies that prosecutors say transformed mere speech into action in a failed bid to undo the election. Those efforts, prosecutors wrote in the indictment, amounted to a disruption of a “bedrock function of the United States federal government: the nation’s process of collecting, counting, and certifying the results of the presidential election.”
“If all that this was about was lies or the alleged lies of President Trump, then he’d have a pretty good legal defense based on the First Amendment,” said Floyd Abrams, a longtime First Amendment attorney. “But the theory of the indictment is that the speech of the president and the falsehoods of the president were part of a general effort to steal the election.”
Lauro said Tuesday night in an interview with CNN that the indictment is an attack on “free speech and political advocacy.”
“And there’s nothing that’s more protected under the First Amendment than political speech,” he said.